You don’t need to be mad to stay at a whimsical Alice in Wonderland hotel called Hatters… but it might help. Nottingham holidaymakers might know it as the Crown Hotel in Skegness but last year it changed hands and is currently being transformed into a magical fairy tale world with themed bedrooms and staff dressed in Alice uniforms of blue dresses, white tights, black shoes and black bow in their hair.
Dee Allen and her husband Gary, a co-owner of taxi company Central Cars in Nottingham, upped sticks last July to move from their home in Ilkeston over the border to Lincolnshire for a new adventure. Guests are whisked away to a land of make believe with rooms dedicated to the Queen of Hearts, the White Rabbit and Alice herself at the 29-bed hotel at the Seacroft end of Drummond Road.
As soon as they step through the door they’re greeted by a statue of the Mad Hatter pouring a tea pot, rotund twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee stand side by side in their stripy jerseys and bow ties, and playing cards hang from the ceiling. They might also get a glimpse of the family dog. Her name? Alice, of course. There also Dee’s pet snake Absolem, named after the Caterpillar.
Dee says: “I’m mad on Alice. I’m totally obsessed with her. I have always been a fan of Alice for as long as I can remember. I think the deeper you are as a person then your more likely to relate to Alice, as the whole story can quite literally mean anything that you want it to, depending on what angle you look at it. I’ve always felt like I relate to Alice as she is always curious, feels misunderstood and has an open mind to anything.”
Despite her obsession it was never an ambition to fall down a rabbit hole into the world of Alice and co. and enter the hotel trade. Dee, who used to be a community carer and make personalised items such as T-shirts, said she and her husband were struck by an impulse during lockdown.
She says: “It was never my dream. During lockdown, I think we went a little bit insane. I was painting wooden chairs in an Alice in Wonderland theme and he was taking the kids to the park every day to feed the ducks and we got really bored. One night we said what would be both really enjoy doing because we’re both really outgoing.
“Initially we said let’s buy a nice pub somewhere, just a little pub. We viewed a few but just never really came across anything and thought this is for us. Whilst we were browsing we came across this hotel and with it being in Skegness, my dad who I lost two years ago, he loved Skegness, he adored it, so we said shall we take a trip down there with the kids and view this hotel because it looks really, really good.
“As soon as we walked in we loved it but it’s so different to just a pub. It has a bar, restaurant, function room – it’s humungous here. We fell in love with it and that’s how we ended up with it.”
Dee, 35, and Gary, 60, opened the hotel in August 2021, just a week after the sale went through. They live on-site with Dee’s three children, Lataya 18, Rivvah, ten, and Minnie, six, who are used to their mum’s obsession.
She says: “They don’t really comment on it as they have only ever known me to be Alice in Wonderland mad. They could be sat on the sofa in the foyer playing on their iPads and a delivery will arrive, like a 6ft high Mad Hatter statue, and they don’t bat an eyelid. They look up and then back down again and carry on.”
At their old home in Ilkeston, Dee’s Alice in Wonderland memorabilia was contained to her workroom. The Egyptian-style bedroom had replica tombs, the kitchen was themed like an American diner and Gary’s bar was down the bottom of the garden.
Their new life by the coast has been a steep learning curve and the revamp is going to be a long process on top of the day-to- day running of the hotel but they don’t regret a thing. Dee says: “We’re enjoying massively. We had no idea whatsoever what this was going to entail – I can’t begin to describe how hard it is but at the same time we enjoy it so we are loving it. There’s always something that needs to be done.
“We have come a long, long way in such a short time. When we got here the place was unbelievable. It was so old and dated and cob ‘webby’. It was god’s waiting room but we have injected a lot of colour and life into the place.”
Dee’s imagination runs riot. The Queen of Hearts’ bedroom has a right royal bed with red velvet bedspread and heart-shaped cushions. Everything from the door, furniture, kettle, right down to the waste bin is themed. A 2ft statue of the screaming Queen, pointing her finger, is either saying “off with their heads” or “pick your pants up off the bedroom floor.”
A family room has the Cheshire Cat grinning down from one wall and the Mad Hatter on another. “We’ve got a wonky room full of wonky things like a wonky wardrobe and wonky paintings on the wall. Then there’s the White Rabbit room with lots of clocks on the wall,” says Dee, who is Nottingham born and bred.
“Guests think we’re absolutely nuts, they’ve never met people like us and called us the actual Mad Hatters. We don’t mind – we know what they’re saying is right.
“We love it. A lot of people say there’s a real family feel here. It’s not like your usual hotel where you have robotic people walking around in suits. It’s just crazy here. It’s going well and a lot of people love it. They say ‘OMG I’m coming back here’. It’s really good, Everyone’s always taking photos of all the statues.”
While the bedrooms are Dee’s focal point, Gary’s domain is the bar. But you won’t find any Alice memorabilia here. Instead neon signs spelling out Star Wars, Lord of the Ring and Dee’s Mad House Saloon decorate the walls, while a curvy Jessica Rabbit statue displays her attributes.
“He’s into branded things like Budweiser fridges and he’s got a really old telephone box from something like the 1920s which I believe is the only one in the UK and a lot of antique collectors always try and buy it. It’s amazing. He’s got an original confessional box too,” says Dee.
A disused room, that was once home to the hotel’s swimming pool, has been transformed into a sports bar. “It was just empty. Gary’s renovated that and it’s looking absolutely amazing.”
It’s little wonder that the hotel caught the eye of the makers of Channel 4’s hit series Four in a Bed, where B&B owners and hotel owners take it in turns to stay with one another and pay what they consider it’s worth.
Filming took place earlier this year but the couple’s lips are sealed about the outcome. The episode is expected to be screened around next February.
Dee says: “Four in a Bed emailed us three times. The first time they asked us if we wanted to go on wasn’t long after we’d taken over so I was ‘no definitely not’ as the place was a mess. Then they emailed a couple of months later and we’d only just started renovating and the third time, a good three or four months ago, I said let’s do it, let’s just go for it.”
Fellow Alice in Wonderland fanatic Marina Michau, who runs Marina’s Attic, a quirky art, clothing, and furniture shop in Mablethorpe, has created the colourful murals in the bedrooms.
She said: “I’m quite the fan. My fiancé and I are planning an Alice themed wedding I think the hotel is completely bonkers! I love it. Dee has definitely chosen the right theme for the hotel it suits it to a tee! It’s been so much fun to be part of such an amazing venture I’ve loved every minute of creating the furniture and decor for the rooms. The colours and patterns and general ‘Aliceness’ is fantastic I never want this commission to end.”
Written by: thehitnetwork